Celtic dance – in both a traditional and contemporary vein – will be the focus of the BCMFest Nightcap, the grand finale for the 11th annual BCMFest (Boston’s Celtic Music Fest), on Sat., Jan. 11.
A grassroots celebration of local Irish, Scottish, Cape Breton, and other Celtic music, BCMFest takes place over two days at venues in Harvard Square. The festival is a program of Passim, the nonprofit folk and acoustic music-oriented performance and education center.
The BCMFest Nightcap, which will begin at 7:30 p.m. at First Church, Cambridge, 3 Church Street, will feature solo, duet, and group performances of dances from Ireland, Scotland and Cape Breton. Accompanying the dancers — some of the most accomplished in the Greater Boston area — will be a “house band” comprising similarly top-notch local musicians and singers. Local radio personality Brian O’Donovan of WGBH-FM’s “A Celtic Sojourn” will serve as emcee.
Masterminding the concert are two of the Boston area’s most eminent traditional-style dancers, Jaclyn O’Riley and Jennifer Schoonover. O’Riley has studied Irish step dancing at University College Cork with dancing master Peggy McTeggart and locally with Kieran Jordan, an acclaimed performer and teacher of several styles of percussive dance. It was through Jordan that O’Riley was inspired to learn the rich improvisational tradition of sean-nós dance, and the old-style step dancing which has influenced modern, competitive step dancing. In 2010, she began her own Irish dance program for children, with a goal of teaching dancers who know how to interact with musicians and other dancers and to encourage a lifelong appreciation for the tradition.
O’Riley has performed with “Atlantic Steps,” an international sean-nós dance show organized by Connemara dancer Brian Cunningham, and has collaborated on projects with friend and fellow dancer Rebecca McGowan in Washington, DC – the two are performing at BCMFest 2014 as part of the production “Stepping Back.” She also occasionally choreographs both solo and group pieces, and calls dances at weddings and ceilis.
Schoonover has performed Scottish dance at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and “Good Morning, America,” and appeared at the Chestico Days stepdancing festival in Cape Breton; she also was a co-choreographer for Bonnie Rideout’s national production, “A Scottish Christmas.” Her local performances include the Gaelic Roots festival at Boston College and the New England Folk Festival Association, as well as BCMFest as a member of Highland Dance Boston.
In addition, Schoonover has been active in modern dance, appearing at the Theater Outlet in Allentown, Pa., The Irondale Ensemble Project and Voice and Vision Theater in New York City, and as part of the Back Porch Dance Company and the Willing Suspension Players in Boston.
“Over the years, these dance traditions have fulfilled a number of roles,” says O’Riley. “A dance might be a ‘party-piece’ someone would share at a gathering of friends and family. Or perhaps it was for a competition, or – as has been the case in more recent years – used in a performance setting, perhaps with influences from other kinds of dance, like tap, modern or even ballet. And of course, in addition to solo dances there are also duets and more social-type dances that are part of the tradition.”
Adds Schoonover, “In this concert, we hope to celebrate the symbiotic relationship of music and dance. Music is at the root of these dance traditions, where dancers often contribute to the music with sounds they make with their feet. In turn, dance has historically fueled musical forms. The two have always been intertwined, and we’re looking forward to putting them together again in the spotlight.”
Joining O’Riley and Schoonover are Jordan and Kevin Doyle, a performer of old-style traditional Irish step dance and American tap dance whose resume includes “A Christmas Celtic Sojourn,” as well as Abbie MacQuarrie, a former member of Highland Dance Boston.
Among the musicians slated to take part are John Coyne (bouzouki, vocals), Mairin Ui Cheide (vocals), Joey Abarta (uilleann pipes), Chris Stevens (accordion, concertina), Neil Pearlman (piano) and Katie McNally (fiddle).
BCMFest 2014 begins on Fri., Jan. 10, with the “Roots and Branches” concert at Club Passim, which will feature NØÍR (Torrin Ryan, Mark Oien and Stuart Peak), Cat and the Moon (Kathleen Parks, Ricky Mier, Eamon Sefton, Elias Alexander and Charles Berthoud), and the trio of Mark Kilianski, Bronwyn Keith Hynes and B.B. Bowness. Also that night will be the Boston Urban Ceilidh, at The Atrium (50 Church Street), featuring participatory and social dances from the Irish, Scottish and Cape Breton traditions, all with live music.
The festival continues on Saturday with children/family-oriented entertainment in the morning at Club Passim, followed by concerts and participatory events at Passim and First Church, Cambridge. Performers include: Matt and Shannon Heaton; Liz Simmons; Katie McD; Owen Marshall and Lindsay Straw; Flynn Cohen and the Deadstring Ensemble; Jenna Moynihan; Joey Abarta; Skylark; Realta Gaela; Sparrow’s Joy; Oran Mor; Highland Dance Boston; sean-nos singers led by Bridget Fitzgerald; Step About Boston; Fresh Haggis; Diane Taraz; Lindsay Adler; Elizabeth and Ben Anderson; Molly Pinto Madigan; Wisp of Thistle; Royal Scottish Country Dance Society; Alba’s Edge; Sean Smith; SoundShapes — a special performance of Irish music and dance featuring Kieran Jordan and Sean Clohessy — and Jigs & Saws.
Updates on BCMFest 2014 performers and events, and other details about the festival, are available at passim.org/bcmfest.